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Covid-19: “Everybody In” Scheme

Volume 809: debated on Monday 11 January 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they plan to reinstate the “Everybody In” scheme in England to provide shelter for homeless people; and if not, why not.

On 8 January, the Government set out further support for people who sleep rough as part of our ongoing, world-leading work to protect rough sleepers. In the light of the new strain, we are asking all local authorities to redouble their efforts to accommodate rough sleepers, backed by £10 million. We are also asking areas to use this opportunity to make sure that all rough sleepers are registered with a GP and factored into local area vaccination plans, in line with the JCVI prioritisation for vaccinations.

Everyone In was a success, with great leadership from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, refusal to resort to the dangers of night shelters and all sectors working together. Should not that success be repeated? What guarantee can the Minister give that this time, with increased transmissibility and local authorities going broke, no one will be refused a safe room and a roof? Does he agree that it is no longer “Everyone In” if rough sleepers are refused emergency help in this lockdown?

My Lords, Everyone In was a tremendous programme, which is why it continues to be in place. I would point to the fact that 33,000 people had been helped and supported to the end of November. We continue with this programme in place to build on the success that has saved many lives in the course of the pandemic.

My Lords, many destitute asylum seekers, particularly those whose appeals have been refused and who have no recourse to public funds, find themselves homeless and turned away by local authorities. The Jesuit Refugee Service, the West London Mission and others are doing a great job, but the public health danger is real. Will the Government commit to ensuring funding for accommodation for everyone who needs it throughout the pandemic, irrespective of their immigration status? If not, why not, if we are all in this together?

My Lords, I would point to the Statement I made on local government finance, where we saw core spending power increasing by 4.5%. The derogation to London around no recourse to public funds has been widened to the rest of the country, so that local authorities can show the local leadership required to safeguard communities, including rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds.

I commend the Government on their last efforts, which I was involved in. It was a wonderful opportunity to be told about the policy and the work that was going on. Unfortunately, in spite of what the Minister has said, there is no sense of policy, in the sense of all things being joined up and co-ordinated. I have received no information in the same way that I was kept up to speed on the last occasion. There is a sense that “We did it last time but we’re not doing it again this time.” The Government really need to be selling this and pushing it forward, so that we can understand when it is working and when it is not.

My Lords, there is no greater salesman than the noble Lord, Lord Bird, but I would point out that we are backing up a commitment to end rough sleeping and to tackle homelessness with more cash. The total amount set in the current financial year is a little over £700 million; next year, we have committed £750 million towards wider homelessness duties and to end rough sleeping. That commitment is an increasing amount of money for this endeavour.

My Lords, last week’s SI number 15 will permit evictions for six months’ rent arrears. That is a harsh change from the present rules, which require nine months’ arrears and, importantly, disregard arrears accrued since the start of the first lockdown, which the new rules will not. Robert Jenrick promised last March that

“no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus epidemic”.

Will not this change clearly break that pledge and increase homelessness at this very dangerous time?

My Lords, I think we would all accept that a full six months still amounts to egregious rent arrears, so we do not agree with the noble Lord on that point. It is important to get a fair balance between the interests of those who are tenants and those who are landlords. We believe that that fair balance will be achieved by this change with regard to rent arrears.

My Lords, one particularly impressive aspect of the Everyone In programme was the opportunity it gave local authorities to deliver a wraparound programme for homeless people. What assessment has my noble friend made of the number of people who have been transitioned into a home of their own, and what opportunity might this give for the future?

I thank my noble friend for highlighting the importance of the wraparound care required to get people into settled accommodation. I would point to the budget of £433 million over three years to enable people to move from temporary accommodation into more settled accommodation. We are talking about having supported around 33,000 people, with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation. Those are substantial numbers and there is no doubt that this programme has saved lives.

I thank the Minister for his replies to date and for his personal commitment to tackling homelessness in this country. He has already referred to the fact that many homeless people are at high risk of respiratory disease, including coronavirus. Will he encourage Her Majesty’s Government to prioritise the vaccination of all homeless people as a cohort, including those who do not fall neatly into one of the existing priority groups?

My Lords, the most important thing is to define terms. Certainly “rough sleepers” are very much considered to be a priority category. The right reverend Prelate makes a case for whether we should consider the broader category of those with a statutory duty to be housed, who may be in accommodation but not settled accommodation. I will take this forward and see how we can make sure that the vaccination goes to the most needed groups, which I am sure is the point behind the question.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. On the Minister’s responses, the solutions are by no means world-class, world-beating or world-leading; they are extremely disappointing. We had people sleeping rough on our streets last week and last night, and we will have them again tonight. If the Minister goes to Waterloo Station, he will see a whole group of tents there, with people sleeping under the bridge between the station and Waterloo Road. The Prime Minister and members of the Government tell us that this pandemic is serious; it is deadly serious, and lives will be lost. There is no justification for not getting every single homeless person off the street today. They have particular vulnerabilities and we must do this, because we are not doing what we did last time.

The noble Lord has reminded me to declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. I thank him for that. I understand where he is coming from. As a Government we have a moral mission to end rough sleeping. That is not an easy task, as the noble Lord knows, but we will do our utmost. The first thing is to prioritise the cash, with escalating amounts of money to do precisely that. We will need the support of local government. He points to Waterloo, and I know that is in the noble Lord’s “patch”, if you like, so we need the support of the London Borough of Southwark to show the leadership required to deal with this issue.

My Lords, I too congratulate the Government on the progress made with this scheme and campaign, but like others I am disappointed it is not being followed through as wholeheartedly as it might be. I will ask two questions relating to health. The first is: what evidence is there of homeless people and rough sleepers unwittingly transmitting the virus? Secondly, have the Government assessed how many homeless people have had the virus or have been admitted to hospital?

Those are very detailed questions and the noble Lord deserves a proper written answer with the information, such as I can find it. I met the vaccine tsar Nadhim Zahawi last week and rough sleepers are very much a priority cohort to ensure that they get timely vaccinations.

My Lords, local authorities did an amazing job during the last lockdown, with many rough sleepers saying they felt valued for the first time. We are now in the depths of winter and many rough sleepers are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. I welcome the Everybody In funding, but will this cover those who are suffering with addictions—sometimes more than one addiction—and are very vulnerable, especially in rural areas?

Vulnerability is incredibly important to understand. That is why the Government have put £10 million on the table for local authorities, which know their communities best, to come up with plans to target those rough sleepers and give them the wraparound care needed. That is how we will proceed: in partnership with local leaders at a local level.

My Lords, like others, I welcome the Government’s instruction on Friday to local authorities to redouble their efforts to accommodate those sleeping rough. This will help achieve the target by 2024. Might I ask my noble friend about numbers? In 2019 the Government estimated the number of rough sleepers to be 4,000. As a result of Everybody In, we now know that, of the 15,000 people supported, 7,000 people had been sleeping rough. Does this not underline the need for a better measurement of rough sleepers if we are going to hit our target?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend because I agree that, through this pandemic, we have got much more of a grip of the quantum involved if we want to end rough sleeping. We also know there are people who may not be rough sleeping in the truest sense of the word—but they are sofa surfers on the edge of being rough sleepers. Understanding more about the cohort and what it will take to resource this is the only way to deliver on the Government’s moral mission to end rough sleeping for good.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that Housing Justice has done a fantastic job in providing winter night shelters, with the rolling church model being central—particularly for those with no access to public funding. However, while the people involved should be commended and thanked, this model is not adequate during a pandemic. There is likely to be only one or two toilets and inadequate washing facilities, and people must move on each day. Can the Government guarantee there will be sufficient safe accommodation to close the night shelters and ensure that every rough sleeper is housed safely? We managed to do it the first time around. Will the Government show the leadership necessary to ensure it this time around?

My Lords, I thank the front-line workers in those night shelters. It is important that we recognise that, in the current pandemic, they are putting themselves at risk. They need to be prioritised in the same way that we prioritise those working in the National Health Service and other care workers. There is a real commitment to getting people off the streets, into a Covid-secure and safe setting, and then to finding them the right accommodation. That is backed up by more cash than ever to ensure that we do, in time, end rough sleeping.

The city of Manchester has been remarkably successful in rehousing rough sleepers. There were 356 long-term rough sleepers three years ago. Of those, 79% are now in housing and a percentage of them are receiving appropriate help for mental health and drug- or alcohol-related problems. What lessons can the Government learn from the policy of the city of Manchester to pass on to other local authorities?

I am delighted that the noble and right reverend Lord raised the excellence of the city of Manchester. That is an example of fantastic local leadership—fantastic. Sir Richard Leese, a long-time leader of the city of Manchester, is a fantastic local leader. Sir Howard Bernstein is a fantastic chief executive. What the city of Manchester does today is what other local authorities should do tomorrow. That is the message of the city of Manchester.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the success of the first rollout of the Everybody In scheme. It was highly successful and I hope that we are able to replicate that in the second rollout of the scheme. I would like to ask the Minister about vaccination, which he has referenced. What percentage of those accommodated through Everybody In in the first phase have registered with GPs so that we can ensure the vaccine rollout for this essential group? Unless we ensure that these people are registered, they will, I regret, slip through the system. I am sure the Government are on to it, but I would welcome some stats to back that up.

I thank my noble friend for testing my statistical knowledge. Rather than plucking a number out if the air in my current disposition—where I cannot see particularly well—I would prefer to write to my noble friend on that matter. He is right; we do understand this, we have gripped the problem and we will provide the numbers to back that up.